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Judah Leib Nevakhovich

NEVAKHOVICH, JUDAH LEIB (1776–1831), one of the earliest maskilim in Russia. Born in Polonnoye (today Khmelnitskii district), Ukraine, Nevakhovich was a teacher and a companion of Abraham *Peretz, son-in-law of the wealthy Joshua *Zeitlin of Shklov. Together with the Peretz family, Nevakhovich settled in St. Petersburg at the end of the 18th century. Having mastered German and Russian, he was employed by the Russian government as a translator of Hebrew documents, including those connected with the imprisonment of R. *Shneur Zalman of Lyady.

During the debate over legislation concerning the Jews of Russia at the beginning of the 19th century, Nevakhovich took an active part in the deliberations and wrote the pamphlet Vopl Dushcheri iudeyskoy (St. Petersburg, 1803; repr. in Budushchnost, Vol. 3, 1902). The purpose of this pamphlet was to combat anti-Jewish hatred. Such hatred, Nevakhovich believed, was the cause of all the decrees and persecutions endured by his coreligionists. He called on his Russian countrymen to treat the Jews with sympathy and tolerance. He pointed out that there was no foundation to the accusations – including blood libels – brought against the Jews, and that Judaism, furthermore, was not opposed to the laws of Russia. Nevakhovich rejected the demands of Christians that the Jews be converted. Within a year of its publication, Nevakhovich's pamphlet also appeared with various changes and additions in Hebrew, under the title Kol Shavat Bat Yehudah ("The Cry of the Daughter of Judah" (Shklov, 1804); repr. in He-Avar, vol. 2, 1918). The Hebrew version also includes a short history of Russia, followed by an essay on "the hatred of religions, truth and peace," which is in the form of a discussion between "truth" and religious hatred, with words of praise for Alexander I who convened a committee for "the reform of the situation of the Jews to their benefit and that of the country." The pamphlet, in both its Hebrew and Russian versions, marks the beginning of Haskalah literature among Russian Jewry, but it also signifies the end of Nevakhovich's literary activity on behalf of the Jews.

In 1809 his name is present on the list of signatories to Ha-Me'assef, and it was about this time that Nevakhovich converted to Lutheranism. He was employed as a government official in Poland and later engaged in commerce. He also wrote dramas which were presented in St. Petersburg's theaters and translated German literature into Russian. The conversion of Nevakhovich and his companion, A. Peretz, turned many Jews away from the Haskalah movement, even in its most moderate forms. Although Nevakhovich's works appear episodic and without continuity in the literature (both Hebrew and Russian) of the Haskalah, they did, nevertheless, herald the arrival of a new period in the spiritual life of Russian Jewry. The scientist Elie *Metchnikoff was the grandson of Nevakhovich, through his daughter.


B. Katz, in: Ha-Zeman, 3 (1904), 11–15; idem, in: He-Avar, 2 (1958), 197–201; Klausner, Sifrut, 3 (1953), 20–24; Yu. Hessen (Gessen), Yevrei v Rossii (1906), 78–98, 136–9.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.